The Impact of Divorce on Financial Aid Eligibility

April 15, 2021

Applying and paying for college can be a stressful experience for parents. Co-parenting can be difficult without the added stress of the college application process. In general, divorce settlements do not detail how college expenses will be handled, as Pennsylvania law does not require parents to pay for college. In Pennsylvania, child support is only required until the child’s 18th birthday or high school graduation. That does not preclude parents from negotiating a written agreement that is enforceable and subject to modification.

When to Discuss College With Your Co-Parent

The best time to discuss expectations and expenses for college is during the 
collaborative process.  The parties will have already signed an agreement to stay out of 
court, thus maintaining control of the outcome. Meetings include the parties and their attorneys, who can advise and advocate for their clients. Often, a divorce coach 
and financial professional are included in the process, depending on the needs and expectations of the parties.

Determine the Responsibilities of Each Co-Parent and Your Child

College selection is an important conversation to have with your child and co-parent. Considerations include the level of support each parent can provide, whether the child is expected to contribute from summer earnings and work-study, and how much 
financial aid is available. School choice is important when it comes to financial aid. Many private colleges and universities, including Ivy League, calculate a student’s financial aid 
differently than colleges and universities that rely on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is what the federal government and most colleges and universities 
rely on to determine financial aid.

Do You Get More Finacial Aid if the “Custodial Parent” Completes FASFA?

Currently, the parents’ decision to designate a “custodial parent” for FAFSA can make or break financial aid eligibility. FAFSA requires the “custodial parent”, defined as the parent with whom the child spends the most time or who has provided the most financial support to the child in the past 12 months to complete the application.

How Has the CARES Act Impacted FASFA?

One of the biggest results of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) includes significant changes to the FAFSA, effective on the 2022 application for the 2023-2024 academic year. The new legislation will require the parent who provided the most financial support for the child in the past 12 months to complete the FAFSA, instead of the “custodial parent”, who is often the lower wage earner. In cases in which the support provided is 50/50, FAFSA will require the parent or household with the highest adjusted gross income to complete the application.

Another change affecting single-parent households is the elimination of the discount and reduction of financial eligibility for families with more than one child enrolled in college at the same time.

Since the “custodial parent” in Pennsylvania has no ability to seek contribution for college expenses from the higher-earning parent, it becomes even more critical for the parties to employ the collaborative process for college selection and determination of the contributions each party is able to make for college expenses.

About Rochelle Bobman, Esquire

Ms. Bobman is committed to the peaceful resolution of conflicts outside of the courtroom, where families
have control of the outcome and can focus on the needs of their children. She focuses her practice on all areas of family law, including divorce, custody support, adoption, equitable distribution of assets, and preparation of marital and pre-nuptial agreements. She is a member of the Collaborative Law Professionals of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the International Association of Collaborative Professionals, Doris Jonas Freed Inn of Court and Pennsylvania, Montgomery and Chester County Bar Associations. She is a court-appointed Mediator and Parent Coordinator in Montgomery and Chester Counties serves as Master in the Montgomery County Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program and is a court-appointed Guardian ad Litem for minor children in custody, abuse, and criminal matters. In addition, Ms. Bobman represents incapacitated persons in guardianship matters and parents in connection with dependency and involuntary termination matters. Her commitment to the well-being of children and families is demonstrated by pro bono work on behalf of the Montgomery Child Advocacy Project, Montgomery County Women’s Center, and the Chester County Bar Association. Ms. Bobman is a graduate of Temple University School of Law and a summa cum laude graduate of the Pennsylvania State University. Learn more about Rochelle Bobman, Esquire.